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Christopher’s Newcastle University

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Christopher Jaume is the owner of Cooper-King Distillery which he set up and runs with his partner, Abbie. He went to Newcastle University from where he graduated in Architectural Studies in 2008 with a BA Hons.

Heading to uni (in the driver’s seat)

I chose Newcastle University after looking at the uni league tables: it was one of the top in the UK: in the top five for Architecture at the time. Another reason was the reputation of the city itself. I’d never actually been there until the day I drove up with my parents in freshers’ week. I’d visited some other unis further south, but everyone I spoke to about life in Newcastle absolutely loved it.

I had wanted to be an architect from a really young age, I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. GCSE and A level choices were all aimed towards it, and when it came to uni, that was the only option on my list. That was despite every architect I spoke to telling me not to do architecture – including an architect relative I spent some time doing work experience with! But I had a strong image of what the job involved: being able to design and build something, make your mark on the world and change the way people live their lives for the better through architecture.

I had a strong image of what the job involved: being able to design and build something, make your mark on the world and change the way people live their lives for the better through architecture.

Events and travelling: the spice of uni life

Apart from the course, my time at Newcastle involved lots of life-changing events. I met Abbie there, my partner, which is obviously top of the list – we are now running our own distillery in Yorkshire. Another major one was travel. In the Easter break in my first year my flatmate wanted to do the Morocco hitchhike – an event run by a charity called Link Community Development (a family of organisations working to transform education for children and communities across impoverished rural areas of Africa). We hitchhiked from Northern France down to Morocco – it was my first proper stint doing independent travel and we were hopelessly underprepared for the challenge.

I had a £15 tent and we ended up sleeping in petrol stations, we ran out of food and money several times, but it was great fun and definitely changed my outlook on things. Travel remained a big part of life.

In my second year, we went out to Tanzania to do some work with a brilliant charity called COCO (Comrades of Children Overseas), run by Lucy Phillipson and based up in Newcastle. We climbed Kilimanjaro, lived with the Maasai and taught their children Swahili, and worked on some outreach projects over there in remote rural villages. It was a fantastic trip. In my third year I also spent seven weeks in Thailand and Borneo with one of my best friends from university.

In the second year I became the president of the Architectural Social Society with the job of organising talks and social events. I didn’t really organise any talks but I did organise lots of really good parties! Joking aside, running the Social Society means throwing yourself into uni life, and meeting loads of different people you would never have met if you’d just stayed in your home town.

Then throw in all that travelling, which the freedom of the long summer holidays gives you, and you find yourself meeting people from a multitude of different cultures.

It’s life-changing. It’s not just the degree but all the other things which uni opens you up to that make it such an enriching experience.

Running the Social Society means throwing yourself into uni life, and meeting loads of different people you would never have met if you’d just stayed in your home town.

Learning the ropes

Architecture courses vary quite a bit, with some that lean more to the artistic side and others that are very technically based with much more of a hard-core maths and engineering emphasis. Those that are very heavily artistic can mean you have no idea how buildings are put together by the end of it. There’s a big private one in London, The Architectural Association, which is known for producing students who’ve got incredible creative ideas, but are tricky to employ because they know little about business or engineering. At Newcastle, we were smack bang in the middle of these two extremes and that really appealed. We still had life drawing classes and shadow workshops and all sorts of things that sound bit airy fairy, but they were fantastic for developing your creative side, and then you had hard-core engineering, maths and physics projects as well. It was well-balanced.

I used to really enjoy the group projects where you would be given a challenge to, say, build a bridge with a certain span, using certain materials in the workshop.

I used to really enjoy the group projects where you would be given a challenge to, say, build a bridge with a certain span, using certain materials in the workshop. That kind of studio work was really hands-on and a lot of fun. We had some great lecturers too. One that stands out is Steve Dudek, who had a particularly good sense of humour and was very entertaining and could teach the dryer side of the subject in a very engaging way.

The big what if: what does an Architecture Degree prepare you for (if you don’t become an architect)?

The architecture course is known for being really tough. There were ridiculously long hours with unpleasant deadlines for projects that meant you’d be going in to the studio on a Sunday evening at nine o’clock to pin all your work up – there were some pretty unsociable hours! But, because you get used to working at that high level of intensity, and the varied projects force you to turn your hand to a wide range of skills, you pop out the other end not really fazed by anything any more. This is especially true if you go through and complete the full 7 years’ of training.

Because you get used to working at that high level of intensity, and the varied projects force you to turn your hand to a wide range of skills, you pop out the other end not really fazed by anything any more.

If students complete the degree but realise architecture is not for them, they’re armed with some pretty good skills which they can go and apply to pretty much any situation, especially from such a well-balanced course like the one at Newcastle. The course equips you for anything, so maybe that’s why Newcastle produces graduates that end up pursuing other interesting careers and not just architecture. That’s one of the great advantages of studying architecture.

When you look at some of my peers, you can really see that come into play. Paddy O’Malley is an entrepreneur in the restaurant business, Kaylene Potts is working at Sky TV and I’m distilling gin and whisky. A real range of careers but all really interesting!

My Top 4 for Newcastle Uni

  1. The architecture studios at Newcastle: they are superb, rolling across three floors, and everybody got a big A1 drawing board, a computer and plenty of desk space.
  2. The campus and the activities: they were brilliant, they’ve got this superb student union that is well-kitted out, and has been refurbished since I was there (I’ve been back since to check it out), so it’s even better than it was before. There are tons of clubs and societies. I barely scratched the surface, but if you wanted it, there was a skydiving club, a skiing club – everything you could want to do.
  3. The course itself: because you are thrown together and given group projects, you’re all in the studio together, working hard. So, you meet lots of fellow students and you get to make friends quickly. I think that’s a really important one, and relates directly to that subject: working on projects and solving problems with friendly, like-minded people is ultimately good fun.
  4. Developing presentation and self-analysis skills: when you produce a project you then have to deliver a critical presentation where you stand up and present it to three tutors and 20 or so of your peers, sometimes more. You get grilled in front of everyone about every aspect of your project! It’s absolutely nerve-racking for the first couple of months, but by the end of the third year you’re pretty good at it. You finish the degree with great communication skills and public speaking experience, and the ability to think on your feet and argue your case.

Top 4 for Newcastle City

  1. The social side of it: Newcastle has good places to drink and it’s an extremely social and convivial place. It’s also an affordable city, which helps when you’re a student with a small student loan! There is one place that sticks in my memory and is still going strong: World Headquarters. It’s an independent club, very small, with an awesome line-up of fantastic DJs playing there. We held one of the COCO charity fundraising nights there, which was a great success.
  2. Sports and activities: easy to access. There was a climbing wall in Eldon Square which I loved. It’s on the top floor of the shopping Centre, which also has a gym and squash courts. That’s where I first got into climbing. We went quite regularly and absolutely loved it.
  3. The countryside outside the city: lovely! You’ve got Northumberland National Park and some absolutely stunning coastline to explore. My flatmate used to go surfing there and we often went to the beach at the weekend. In Tynemouth there are beautiful long sandy beaches. In the city there’s an amazing park called Jesmond Dene with a river, waterfall, ruins and woods.
  4. Music venues: there are fantastic choices on either side of the River Tyne with plenty of awesome gigs on offer. Newcastle’s on the music tour circuit, so you get loads of top bands and musicians playing at the Sage Gateshead (we saw Jose Gonzalez there) and at the O2 Academy. There’s also the Baltic Centre down on the river which is a fantastic art gallery.

For students, Newcastle is a great place to live. It’s very safe and has good, affordable public transport. There’s an underground which goes right out into all the residential areas and runs pretty late. There is a multitude of venues, bars, cafes and restaurants which cater to all tastes and budgets. There are also excellent accommodation options to choose from too. I can’t recommend it enough!

For students, Newcastle is a great place to live. I can’t recommend it enough!

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